1 Timothy 6:10 does not say "Money is the root of all evil." It says "the love of money is the root of all evil." And if we really wanted to pick up on the nuances in the Greek, we would render it: "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."
Not quite as snappy though is it? Which is why the blunt version has survived. It has the advantage of being comprehensive, memorable and sensational . It gets dropped in conversations as an epitaph when the banker is busted for fraud. "Ah, just goes to show, money is the root of all evil."
The (mis)quote was commonly placarded at the Occupy movements last year. When I spoke to protestors at St Paul's I was surprised by how often the phrase was mentioned. In fact I was surprised in general at how many spoke in biblical terms. (And, by the way, their translation of choice seemed to be the good ol' King James!)
As a placard it's pleasingly reductionist. If we're looking for radical solutions (remember "radical" means going to the "root") then money is an obvious target. It's simple then to focus on the financial system as the source of our woes - and, hey, biblical support just adds weight. For some anyway.
But it was interesting when I spoke to one protestor about the verse. I said to him, "Do you know that the verse doesn't say "money is the root of all evil"?" "No?" he asked. "No, it says "the love of money is the root of all evil. And you can love money whether you're rich or poor can't you?"
This hit home with him. We'd just been chatting about the "fat cat bankers" who walked past St Paul's every day. He'd been wistfully spinning a tale of these bankers' imagined lifestyles. The protestor was unemployed, living in a tent, but he realised he was just as capable of a love of money as any pin-striped City worker.
He'd been plotting the demise of the global financial system. He'd been speaking of "expropriating" the wealth of the 1% to build a better world. But what if "money" wasn't exactly the problem? What if the "love" of money was the radical evil at the heart of us all?
There's no 'new world order' that can get to the heart. No fat cat tax can fix the affections. If we're looking for "roots" we need to go deeper than money. We must get to the heart.
Don't get me wrong, money can be a deadly trap. As Paul has just said:
"They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." (1 Timothy 6:9)
Such strong language. And just after our phrase, Paul says:
Some coveted after [money, and]... have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Money is incredibly dangerous. Just consider some of the phrases Jesus Himself gave us:
Money has every chance of becoming a competing god in our lives. In Paul's language, it's something that can "tempt", "ensnare", enflame "lust" and make us "covet". But money itself is not the problem. It's the love of money that is so dangerous.
Which is why Paul's revolutionary teaching on riches does not focus on redistribution. Instead he rounds off the chapter like this:
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Sharing the wealth is part of what Paul charges. But that's only part. Notice the true riches Paul directs us to? The living God gives us richly all things to enjoy. Money promises to give us... freedom, comfort, protection, provision. But money can't really deliver on those things. And if we trust in "uncertain riches" they will prove a snare.
Instead, look to the unsearchable riches of Christ, who is given to us so freely and so fully. He is Heir of the cosmos and shares all things generously with us. One day - in "the time to come" - He will show us our inheritance here on the renewed earth and it will take our breath away. In the words of Isaiah we will see the King in His beauty and a land that stretches afar (Isaiah 33:17).
How can money hold a candle to Christ?